Make Great PowerPoint Decks Not PowerPoint Dreck

July 18, 2007 by  

I write many PowerPoint decks each year. When I start a new one, I shut the office door, light candles, draw a pentagram on the floor then summon the Beast to glide my mouse and guide my fingers across the keyboard.

When the smoke clears, I emerge with a twenty-slide document of digital dreck.

Feeling frustrated, I dug out something I remembered by Seth Godin. (Seth is a marketing subject matter expert that I’ve followed since the 90’s.)

Here are Seth’s five rules you need to remember to create amazing PowerPoint presentations:

  • No more than six words on a slide. EVER.
  • No cheesy images. Use professional images from instead. They cost $3 each, or a little more if they’re for ‘professional use’.
  • No dissolves, spins or other transitions. None.
  • Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never (ever) use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have.
  • Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They’re emotional, and they won’t work without you there. If someone wants your slides to show “the boss,” tell them that the slides go if you go.

I used to have this mentality that as a document, it needed to act like documentation – citing every detail for historical reference. Truth be told, I’ve improved, but I know I can do much better.

In real world practice, I realize that the clients I present to are so overwhelmed that they never open the document again. Sometimes never at all to begin with.

So here are my PowerPoint writing tips:

  • Write, re-write and re-write again. Brevity is key. Be ruthless to distill down your thoughts to a simple sound bite. Embellish with spoken word.
  • Come up with creative ways to display your ideas graphically instead of as bullets — A chart, graph, funnel, Venn Diagram — whatever it takes. Edward Tufte is an excellent source of inspiration for expressing details in a visually comprehensive way.
  • Have a cover sheet with a title, date and name of the person(s) it’s for. It drives me crazy looking at old decks and not having a clue who they were for.
  • Include a Next Steps slide with specific action items, dates and responsibilities.
  • Include all the contact information for the relevant team on the last slide. That makes it easier for the client to figure out who to talk to.

Please add your suggestions and let me know if you find this useful.

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